type not font

Type not font influences the reception of a message. I’m grateful to my friend Bob Connelly for this guest post where he shares some ideas on the use of type in supportive media. Importantly this is about type, not font. Thanks Bob.


Many people think that improving the p2 of your presentation means getting rid of bullet points and replacing them with pictures. While I welcome any movement to rid presentations of “slideuments”, text still plays an important role in illustrating the key message of your presentation. And when it comes to adding text to a presentation slide, the most frequently asked question is “What font should I use?”

Think Type Rather Than Font

Instead, I recommend that you ask a different question—how do I best leverage the use of text in my slide? Doing this involves two components: choosing type and using type.

Choosing Type

We have an abundance of choices of typefaces today, from those pre-installed on our computers, available for free on the Internet and for purchase from type foundries. These choices can be overwhelming. Many, in the quest of looking for something unique, have made poor choices for presentations. So how do we navigate through these choices?


David Underwood, a professor of Graphic Design at the University of Colorado at Boulder offers two simple rules:

  1. Choose the typeface that reflects your messages and not your personal taste.

Just because you think Comic Sans looks cute (and different from the boring Calibri that everyone seems to use), does not mean it is appropriate for your talk on end-of-life care, even if you are talking to Pediatricians!

2. Let your best work be reflected by the best work of the experts: stick with the classics.

Classic typefaces remain timeless for a reason: they work well. Although I am a self-professed typography nerd, I am not an expert. I rely heavily on the recommendations of expert designers for choosing typefaces for my presentations. Here are some suggested typefaces from two highly-recommended experts:

type not fonttype not font

Recommendations from typography expert, Ina Saltz

Recommendations from presentation expert, Garr Reynolds


Using Type

Some rules on using type:

  1. Limit text on your slides. Remember that whatever text you put on your slide needs to be read quickly (with just a quick glance).
  2. Stick with one typeface. I would recommend only using one typeface that has a number of weights (regular, medium, semi-bold, bold, etc).

type not font

type not font

Helvetica Neue is one of my go-to typefaces. It is based on the classic Helvetica typeface and has a wide range of weights to use. Here are samples of slides using UltraLight and Medium (left slide) and Bold and Thin (right slide).
      3. Exploit contrast in your type. Think of how you can change the type elements to make your message easy for the audience to see. Make the important word(s) much larger, or in a heavy weight, or in a different colour.


type not fonttype not font
These are sample slides, taken from presentations that Ross has given. On the left, this slide uses contrast in both weight (bold vs regular) and size to make the statistic stand out. In the example on the right, the dramatic picture captures your attention. By being strategically placed in line with the infant’s eyes, your eyes are directed to the statistic that is further highlighted by contrast not only in size but in colour.


In summary, choosing a typeface is relatively straightforward—stick with a classic typeface that reflects your message. More importantly, pay attention to how you can use the attributes of type—colour, size, weight—to make the message easily seen by your audience. Remember type not font, for Bob’s sake.


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Good analogy- guest post

A good analogy can make or break a presentation. It’s always a pleasure to share thoughts and ideas from other presenters on the site. I was pleased to receive this guest from Simon McCormick giving some of his thoughts around the use of a good analogy in a presentation.


A good analogy is like a good joke: understood by everyone, offending nobody and memorable enough to be used by others to similar effect.  Unlike a joke, it doesn’t have to be funny… but then that’s the thing about analogies; they don’t have to be perfect, just good enough to make their point.

Analogies can be a great tool to use when giving a presentation.  Apart from the fact that they should help explain a point, they can add some colour, a change of pace or maybe even a bit of humour to the proceedings.  It also gives you the opportunity to change your tone of voice and your body language as you aim to make a deeper connection with the audience.  A good analogy is almost a break from the formal part of the presentation, a pit stop that allows everyone to draw breath at the end of an explanation or to prepare for the next.

good analogyAnalogies are a powerful tool but just like Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker: ‘With great power comes great responsibility’.  So I, like Baz Luhrmann, would like to dispense my thoughts on the use of analogies based on nothing more reliable than my own meandering experience.

Do you need an analogy?
Before you start trying to come up with an analogy just stop and think, do I really need one?  Remember, for all their power, analogies are NOT what you are trying to get across, they are a tool to help you explain or illustrate something else.  They are, by their nature imperfect and one step removed from your goal so, if you can explain your point simply and clearly as it is, do so.

Make it simple.
There are few things as painful as a presenter having to explain an analogy at length, trust me if it takes that much effort to explain then you need to find a better analogy.  Think Hugh Grant trying to say ‘I love you’ to Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral…it might be endearingly foppish in a Richard Curtis romantic comedy but in real life, it’ll just be irritating.

Make it relevant.
An analogy only works if the person hearing it understands what you are talking about.  Medical speciality, age, country and culture are just a few of the reasons your well-chosen analogy will fall flat on its face. The beloved TV, books and music of our youth may be a rich mine for analogies but anyone born ten years after you is unlikely to understand.  Be wary of specific
sporting analogies too, believe it or not, not everyone understands the offside rule, what a quarterback does or why NASCAR even exists. In the famous Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ‘Darmok’ (see how I’m alienating some of you with this) Captain Jean Luc Picard and his crew find themselves struggling to communicate with a race called the Children of Tama who speak in an analogy based language.  It is only after they have a common experience (fighting off an invisible monster, obviously) that communication can finally begin. Instead, a really good analogy reaches deep

In the famous Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ‘Darmok’ (see how I’m alienating some of you with this) Captain Jean Luc Picard and his crew find themselves struggling to communicate with a race called the Children of Tama who speak in an analogy based language.  It is only after they have a common experience (fighting off an invisible monster, obviously) that communication can finally begin. Instead, a really good analogy reaches deep into the collective experience of the audience, connecting at an emotional level and helping not just explain but motivate the listeners.

Don’t make it distracting.
Remember, the analogy shouldn’t be the star of the show: it is a tool to help explain something else.  If the analogy is distracting because it is too funny, too unpleasant or too controversial the danger is that it overwhelms the main point and becomes what your audience remember. Ultimately, whilst a really good analogy may be funny, unpleasant or controversial it should be remembered because it points brilliantly to the issue at hand.

Don’t apologise for its failings.
An analogy usually starts with the phrase ‘It’s a bit like…’ because that is the case, it is just a ‘bit like’ what you are trying to explain, it isn’t the samething…that’s the point!  Make it good, think carefully how it might be misinterpreted (sometimes deliberately) and then, if you are still happy, go for it.  If someone wants to take it too far then that’s their problem, unless of course you make that mistake for them…

Don’t stretch it too far!
As I said above, an analogy is only supposed to be a bit like your main point, not the same as it.  If you start stretching your analogy you are inviting your audience to do the same and this creates a couple of problems. Firstly they will start to get distracted, wondering how much further they can take it themselves and then, inevitably, they will start to see the areas where the analogy differs. Either way, they are no longer listening to what you are saying and you risk the analogy being the only thing they remember. Keep it smart by keeping it simple.

Avoid urban myths.

The thing is, most urban myths aren’t true so if you use one some smart a**e will point it out at the end and that will distract from the learning. Alternatively, everyone knows it isn’t true already, can’t believe that you don’t and now think they can’t trust anything else you say.  Always do a fact check if using a real life example and remember; a duck’s quack does echo, you can’t see the Great Wall of China from space and Walt Disney wasn’t cryogenically frozen!

Whilst a good analogy will never win an argument or prove a point, it can help clarify difficult concepts, cut through distracting details and add emotional pull to a presentation. It can inspire an audience to listen, stimulate a desire to learn and plough the ground of a hardened mind, in preparation for the seeds of learning to be sewn. A good analogies is an extremely powerful weapon in the battle against insipid, low-value presentations and I believe we should all learn how to use them well.


http://www.goingtoseminary.com/2009/04/14/sermons-illustrations- and-
http://www.startrek.com/article/one-trek- mind-deciphering- darmok
https://www.thoughtco.com/false-analogy- fallacy-1690850

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Room 101

Room 101 is a room in The Ministry of Love from the book by George Orwell, “1984.” Here the Party breaks down the resistance of prisoners exposing them to “their worst nightmare, the thing they fear most in the world.” Once shattered, they then submit to the will of Big Brother. All across the UK in these first days of August, new hospital doctors are being herded into their very own Room 101. For mandatory training.

Room 101Mandatory training is important to new starters in organisations as the bureaucracy requires new staff to be brought rapidly up to speed with various legal requirements as well as transferring large volumes of data to show “compliance.” This is performed by exposing staff to “their worst nightmare, the thing they fear most in the world.” This will be two to three days of having powerpoints read to them, usually by a member of staff who has not written the powerpoint and seldom by a member of staff who has experience in training. At the end of this, the new staff will be broken, the powerpoints will have been read and therefore all training on said topics is assessed as complete.

Staff will be subjected to the dystopian nightmare of Room 101 at least annually for the rest of their careers. Those administering the torture will variously say that The Ministry of Truth has decided that, “there’s no other way to do it,” “it’s not my fault, I didn’t write it,” ” it’s mandatory that we do this.” These apparatchiks take no pleasure in their tasks, the are forced to deliver the message by higher up Party members who firmly believe in the efficacy of the procedure. Staff forced into Room 101 will say nothing. They will stop engaging before the plastic tasting coffee has gone cold in the cup. They will retain nothing. At the end of the session they will be “trained” and “compliant.”

It does not have to be this way. Large quantities of data such as policies, handbooks and guidelines are more efficiently transferred by a document; email it to them. (They may not read it but at least it will be definitely in their possession.) If a “powerpoint” is purely text, it will fail. It will fail even harder if it is simply read out to staff by a colleague who has no emotional investment. It may be mandatory to inform staff but there are better ways of communicating and using that time. Engage them with a message. Explain the need for understanding. Challenge their preconceptions. Welcome them. Don’t simply put them in Room 101.

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